The BUZZ: NYT Bestseller; winner of three ABIAs, including Best Book of the Year; headed into film production with Dreamworks.
The GIST: After the first World War, Tom Sherbourne retreats from society to tend the Janus Rock lighthouse off the coast of Australia. A diligent and moral man, he fulfills his responsibilities carefully and consistently. On shore leave back in Point Parteguese, he falls in love with the strong, sweet Isabel. They marry and enjoy their isolated but idyllic life on Janus, eager to start a family. After two miscarriages and a stillbirth, Isabel’s mental health takes a nose dive. She becomes inconsolable, separated from family and the support of any community – until a small boat washes ashore carrying the body of a man, and a crying infant. Tom and Isabel assume the mother is dead, fallen overboard. Against his better judgement, Tom buries the man and allows Isabel to nurse the baby girl as her own. Her transformation into an elated, devoted mother keeps him from reporting the event, as he knows he should. Time passes, and the family evolves into a bonded unit, with Lucy at its center. Tom and Isabel are patient and adoring parents, and their love for the child is immeasurable. Events careen into disaster when they return to Parteguese to visit their families and come face to face with the consequences of their choices.
The WRITING: Haunting. I listened to the audio book, read perfectly by Noah Taylor, a great Australian actor (currently in Game of Thrones as the guy who chops off Jamie Lannister’s hand). The story starts with a prologue, and goes back and forth between the past and present. The author pulls this off seamlessly, without losing the indelible mood or tone of the narrative. She has created very human characters, who had my heart from the beginning. Even when I knew they were making horrific mistakes (there are lots of these, beyond the big one) I sympathized with the challenges of their circumstances. The gray areas spread like a rising storm, and the reader can only watch with a nervous eye on the horizon where devastation seems inevitable. The questions the author asks of us are gnawing ones: what might we do for someone we love in their suffering? How can we atone for our irrational, harmful choices? How do we judge others, and ourselves, when we screw up?
BUY or BORROW? I loved this book, but categorize it as a tragedy. So if you want more of that in your library, buy it. Borrow it otherwise, but don’t miss it. It’s a beautiful story about devotion, family, marriage and parenthood, as well as desperation and isolation. Gorgeous writing makes this story worth your time, and your heart will have expanded some when it’s over.
QUOTE: “Such a mysterious business, motherhood. How brave a woman must be to endure it.”